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How to Select the Best Materials to Build Tractor Trailers

Last Updated: July 2, 2019

For retail and distribution operations the world over, it is the trusty tractor trailer that acts as one of the most helpful, heavy-duty, and pricey investments in the fleet. So, it’s no surprise that building a new one, whether it be from scratch or through means of customization, can be a tricky process, especially when GVWR-abating, FMSCA compliance standards are factored in. When it comes to trailer and vehicle weight, the guidelines these days are stern, which can make for tricky engineering challenges.

Materials for Tractor Trailers

Having said that, there is a range of reliable materials for manufacturers and fleet managers to choose from, namely when it comes to trailer structure and accessories. The key is to assess your needs in a holistic sense before committing to each individual material element.

Here are the necessary steps for selecting the tractor trailer materials that are right for you:

  1. Assess your long-term needs
  2. Determine your tractor trailer’s size
  3. Select your tires
  4. Weigh the pros and cons of aluminum and steel

For more in-depth information on tractor trailer material section, read on.

1. Assess your long-term needs

Last year, Walmart assessed its fleet’s long-term needs and, by doing so, made an investment that rocked the distribution and electric vehicle world when it ordered 30 Tesla Semis. Although most fleet managers are unable to give up that much capital, the company’s bold move for the future should absolutely be one that is studied.

According to the retailer, it has a very tight goal of reducing both emissions and fuel costs for its vehicles going into the future; a goal that’s so tight, in fact, it would have to invest in new technologies, like Tesla’s electric Semis in order to achieve it.

Now, as mentioned, most companies won’t be able to make heavy-handed moves as Walmart did, but by assessing the long-term needs and goals, they can easily land on the materials that fit their mission statements and budgets in a meaningful, intentional manner. Speak with the major influencers, gate-keepers, and budget experts at your company in order to get a better idea of how this vehicle’s make-up can support your values.

2. Determine your tractor trailer’s size

How to Select the Best Materials to Build Tractor Trailers

Most tractor trailers on the market today come in one of five different lengths:

  • 28 feet
  • 40 feet
  • 43 feet
  • 48 feet
  • 53 feet

Material selection should be of no worry to you and your company until you have first agreed on a size that provides the flexibility you need to operate a well-rounded fleet. Since the structural materials and their optional accessories carry varying weights, you must be aware of your average payload and material choice to develop an expected GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) that will keep you on the right side of NHTSA’s compliance regulations.

3. Select your tires

When selecting tires, you should be considering several things, namely the terrain and the weather in which the operator will be driving the vehicle, as well as your fuel cost goals. Because most companies want to keep the investment as low as possible, low resistance tires are usually a fitting choice. After all, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center, low resistance tires on a heavy-duty vehicle, like a tractor trailer, could improve fuel economy by 10%.

But, fuel economy aside, low resistance tires are not always the best choice for vehicles regularly operating in harsh climates or rough roads. This is because the tire durability on low resistance tires is generally not as strong as the durability felt on standard ones, a tough fact that could end up costing your company more in tire replacement costs than fuel costs.

4. Weigh the pros and cons of aluminum and steel

When it comes to choosing a material for the main structure of the tractor trailer, you have two options to assess: aluminum and steel. Both materials exhibit great durability, but when compared, aluminum is the obvious winner. That’s because aluminum beats steel in maintenance costs and labor, sleekness, lifespan, resale potential, and even sustainability. Simply put, aluminum is a lighter, all-around more forgiving material than its clunky competitor.

But, accolades aside, aluminum isn’t necessarily the right choice for every fleet. After all, steel is just as durable and, at a fraction of the cost, much friendlier on the wallet, too.

Once you’ve assessed these four points, you will have a better idea of which tractor trailer materials will serve your fleet best. And, remember, a perfectly-customized tractor trailer won’t do you any good unless it complies with all state and federal regulations, so don’t forget to take weight and emissions into account, too.

Finally, choose durable data plates for your fleet. Metalphoto®, a photosensitive anodized aluminum, is an excellent choice for VIN tags and data plates. Not only do Metalphoto data plates resist fading, abrasion, and other outdoor exposure, but Metalphoto bar code labels can connect your operators and service representatives in the field with important information such as vehicle maintenance history, service manuals, warranty information, and even parts suppliers. To avoid placing compliance into question with difficult to read data plates, Metalphoto is the leading choice for transportation fleets.

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